Toward a Counter-Cultural Community Part 3: On Idealized Community

Tim Brister —  July 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

I ended part two of this series talking about how idolatry-centered community seeks an idealized community. Outside of Christ, the relationships we intend to enjoy are contingent upon their satisfying our idolatrous desires. If unchecked or unaddressed, Christians will embark on a form community within the context of a local church that continues down this path. This is where Dietrich Bonhoeffer especially has a word for us.

In his little book, Life Together, Bonhoeffer argues, “The community of Christians springs solely from the biblical and reformation message of the justification of human beings through grace alone. The longing of Christians for one another is based solely on this message” (32). He goes on to say later, “I am a brother or sister to another person through what Jesus Christ has done for me and to me; others have become brothers and sisters to me through what Jesus Christ has done to them and for them” (33-34). In other words, what forms biblical community is the gospel, and what continues to constitute Christian community is the gospel.

But what if instead of the gospel, something else is at the center of community? What if heart idolatry makes a requirement for community that is a substitute for the gospel or a non-negotiable add-on? Bonhoeffer answers,

“Those who want more than what Christ has established between us do not want Christian community. They are looking for some extraordinary experiences of community that were denied them elsewhere. Such people are bringing confused and tainted desires into Christian community. Precisely at this point Christian community is most often threatened from the very outset by the greatest danger, the danger of internal poisoning, the danger of confusing Christian community with some wishful image of pious community, the danger of blending the devout heart’s natural desire for community with the spiritual reality of Christian community” (34).

This “wishful image of pious community” stems from a predisposition (control belief) that enters into the equation before the gospel and continues as an alternative ideal in contrast to the community God is creating by His Word and Spirit in the real world. To state it clearly and bluntly, Bonhoeffer argues,

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial” (35).

Why is this? I think the answer goes back to the source of their “dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself.” Those dreams simply don’t surface from thin air. They surface from the heart idolatry desiring a community that is self-serving, comfort-securing, pride-protecting, approval-demanding, and control-promoting. And it is this kind of dream that, if it becomes a reality, will destroy Christian community. To pull from Bonhoeffer again, “The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting” (36-37).

For there to be a truly counter-cultural community, I believe we need to come to terms with the truth that Bonhoeffer articulated, namely, “Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate” (38).

Before we press into this reality created by God in Christ, I think there is one more version of community that Christians must counter. In my next post, I will talk about legalism-driven community.

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